7 Key Trends and Topics to watch for in 2017 Comms

Everyone likes a list, don’t they? There’s a social and psychological reason for the human desire to quantify vast quantities of information into digestible chunks and, in the current market for attention, it’s easier to get your message across. I myself am sceptical of the ongoing value of this approach as our digital culture evolves and becomes more astute, but, that being said, we’d be remiss here at drp if we didn’t at least identify what we think will be the key trends and topics that will emerge or continue to hold significance in 2017. Here are seven of my picks.

Gen Z

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That’s right, another generational demographic to wrap your brain around. Also known as Post-Millennial, iGeneration, and plurals, these guys are the real harbinger of change when it comes to the comms landscape; they have no living memory before the internet, touch screens are second nature to them, and they’ve grown up during the worst recession since The Great Depression. They are intelligent, cynical, tech-savvy and very important to the future comms landscape. As a cohort of the Millennial Generation, they will continue to infiltrate the workplace and consumer spheres; their sensibilities will define our own as we have to adapt to their needs to make our workplaces attractive, our products saleable and our messages heard. The trends below also go some way to addressing their needs, but don’t be surprised if this generation are name-checked ad nauseam throughout 2017.

Data

The external comms world has become adept at using data in a very refined way to put the right ads in front of the right people and pretty much prop up Facebook’s value as an advertising platform. Throughout 2017, both internal and external communicators need to get smarter with their data. The digital realm will continue to be the repository for information, but we need to create structures where we can learn about our audiences in more refined ways and create better experiences for them. People don’t want to feel like a number on a spreadsheet and data has the ability to be reductive in this area. We need a way to quantify the information we have into usable material across our channels. Perhaps live events have the biggest way to go here, but, with the rise of AR and VR in 2017 and even more exciting mapping and biometric technology, soon on the horizon we will have the capacity to design some truly special live experiences in 2017.

Personalisation

Possibly one of the most notable trends of 2016 is personalisation and the need to design bespoke comms experiences, and it will become even more important in 2017. Marketing in 2017 will revolve around conversations, personalised event pathways, and video comms, and digital narratives will be king. We have the ability to weave our content together to design bespoke experiences for our comms recipients, starting with the digital introduction right through to bespoke content and event pathways in the live arena. While there will be a cost attached to achieving this (including time) by the end of the year, those comms channels not adopting a more user-centric, personalised experience will find it hard to keep up the pace.

Diversity in Content

Another time and a potential cost-intensive shift in the comms landscape throughout 2017 will be the continued move towards content diversity. Also described as ‘flat channel comms’ and ‘content in conversation’, we will need to “unlearn” our preconceptions about channel hierarchy.  Our recipients need to be able to access our messages across a range of content formats. The website does not sit at the top of the tree, and neither does the event, despite the budgets associated with them. Our audiences need to be able to curate their own content experiences and not be left without chunks of information by only accessing certain channels. We need to enhance the inherent experience that goes with each unique channel while keeping the key messaging flat. This requires cross-divisional collaboration like never before and the help of an…*ahem*…good agency.

Emotional Communication and Narrative

It sounds like common sense, but people don’t want to be told what to do, what to buy, how to behave or what to think. Bad news if you need to impart a key message, change behaviour or shift more units. What people are not averse to, however, is being shown someone to whom they can relate benefiting from the outcome of your idea, concept, or product. Narrative and its use in comms is nothing new in 2017. In fact, 2016 was probably its most successful year to date. What will be different in 2017 is our ability to craft the right emotion in the right message and to put some real science behind it to benefit not only us as communicators, but our audiences as well.  Research was conducted on the emotional triggers for viral marketing as early as 2013 – perhaps now is the time to apply some of this thought process to our internal comms messaging.

The New Social

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Last summer, my cousin – 19 at the time -described Facebook as a social network for old people. Once again, as we move in 2017 with earnest, there have already been a few think pieces and blogs about the death of Twitter.  While I think Twitter will probably still be here in 2018, 140 characters of text does seem a little “old hat” now. The rise of Facebook Live and Periscope as a live video concept and the younger generations’ propensity to use both Instagram and Snap (formerly Snapchat) as their preferred networks show us that, to reach these audiences, traditional Facebook and Twitter avenues will soon be an afterthought and a nice-to-have, rather than the social paramount. The looming spectre of WeChat in China will also transform the way we look at social. When it’s cracked in the Western market, people will flock to it in droves and transform the way we approach communication.

Trust

Quite a nebulous concept, is trust. What does it mean for brands, their employees, and consumers? Rather than trust in isolation, I believe 2017 will require a rebuilding of trust between all of these groups. Divides are more present than ever in society, pollsters are failing to predict every major election outcome, brands are running campaigns extolling their virtues while being fined by watchdogs, and Post-Truth has been added to the dictionary. Throughout the past few years, communicators have talked a lot about trust and put it into boxes such as employee-loyalty, brand-loyalty, consumer advocacy, etc. I feel we need to start recognising that the people behind comms are human. The recipients are human. It’s the bit in the middle which seems to go through a corporate filter and either becomes hyper-earnest, boring or sometimes downright fraudulent. If we recognise that communication comes down to people talking to people, we will find ways to communicate with Gen Z more effectively. Our data will be more valuable as it will have a human face attached. We’ll know more about our audience and therefore will personalise naturally. We’ll also naturally look at multiple channels to deliver the right messages in the right space. We’ll be talking in stories, not edicts. We’ll learn the best ways to communicate through new platforms and channels because our audiences will openly tell us. We need to become influencers and aid our audiences in curating their own experience when interacting with us as employers or providers. It’s the only way we’ll rebuild trust and stay relevant not just in 2017, but beyond.

Callum Gill

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